JACKSON Mississippi teachers are on track to get a $1,000 pay raise after identical legislation failed last year due to state budget problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 2001, which would grant the pay increase to all teachers and set starting pay at $37,000, passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The bill would also set the minimum salary for assistant teachers at $15,000, also up $1,000.

Mississippi teachers are the lowest-paid in the nation on average and have for years pushed for money that at least matches their colleagues in surrounding states.

“I do realize it’s still below the southeastern average (pay for teachers), but it’s a start,” Senate Education Chairman Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, told his colleagues. “And I think it’s what we can afford at this point in time.”

“I wish it could be more,” Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, told the Daily Journal. “But it’s important to me as a Republican that we do get a raise out this year, and that we also get a raise that the taxpayers can afford.”

The teacher pay bill is a top priority of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and is expected to move quickly through the Senate in the coming days before consideration by the House.

The Education Committee also passed SB 2267, which DeBar said is meant to address Mississippi’s teacher shortage by making it easier and faster for a teacher from another state to get a full five-year Mississippi teacher license, rather than a provisional for two years.

“It states that if you have a valid license in another state, and if you can pass a criminal background check, character check, then you should get your standard five-year license,” DeBar said of the legislation, adding many lawmakers have heard complaints of teachers from out-of-state running into Mississippi licensing roadblocks, perhaps discouraging some from ultimately relocating here.

The committee approved a tweak to the bill, offered by McMahan, that would require the department to finalize the out-of-state teacher’s Mississippi license within 30 days. Officials said while teacher licensing can take as few as a couple days, it can stretch to months during busy times.

McMahan said he wants to show the Mississippi Department of Education “how important it is that, when we have educators that want to go to work, that we move quickly to get their license approved here in the state.”

Luke Ramseth is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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